My Salary Journey: Project Manager (Contractor)

30 Aug 2023

Do you think you are paid fairly for what you do? 

Yes, I work very hard and try to be the best at what I do. I have a broad range of experience and professional qualifications, this is what I believe employers are buying. When I made the pivot to contracting, I was advised that it wasn’t a training environment. This means you have to have the soft skills and technical experience to be dropped into projects at any stage and hit the ground running. More money is always nice, but there is definitely an inflection point where any incremental increase in salary doesn't make you happier and you start looking for greater fulfillment outside of work. 


Do you feel that you did anything differently to increase your salary? Any tips? 

I always asked for a pay rise at any material change in my work. When I was a permanent employee, this was after every review where my performance exceeded expectations. As a contractor, this was after every contract ended and was to be extended, where I could demonstrate my ‘value-add’ to the team and outcomes from work I had done. 

My biggest tips are: 

  • Always ask, no is an acceptable answer. 
  • If you believe you deserve a pay rise the chances are you will have to leave to get it. Find the new role first, ask for your pay rise and if you don’t get it, leave and don’t look back. 
  • Be confident and back yourself 

When recruiters approach me about a role, I am direct in stating my rate expectations. There isn’t much point in furthering the conversation if they try to drive your rate down. I have been on both sides of the table here, people are happy to break ‘bandings’ if you are the right fit. 

You have to be able to sell yourself, but more importantly back it up with actions and outcomes. 


Do you get paid any bonuses at work? If so, how much? 

No, the benefit of contracting is that your perks are included in your day rate, it means there's no guessing at year end and bonuses that could be down to the whim of budgets, obscure accounting practices and overall company performance which you have very little control over. 


Do you feel comfortable asking for a payrise? 

Absolutely! I once read that the difference between a person that asks for a pay increase annually and moves companies every 2.5 years vs. the person that doesn’t over the course of a 40-year career is something like £700k allowing for interest and inflation, not to mention the unrealised potential of that extra money. That alone gave me the confidence to always ask. The worst they can say is no. Then you know what they think of you and you can make an informed move. 

One thing I never do is renegotiate mid contract. I think that is acting in bad faith. Even if you pitched your rate too low for the work, honour the deal you made and learn the lesson. 

Also, men are more likely to ask for improved packages than women, so it’s even more important for women to ask for pay rises. This (among many factors of course) has a material impact on the gender pay gap and the pension gap. 


Do you feel loyal to your company? 

Yes, in so much as I am loyal to my work, my deliverables and the colleagues who have become friends. As a contractor, it’s great to know you could be terminated with 2 weeks notice. You have an eye on the market all the time and great relationships with recruiters. 

I have worked in places where restructures have happened and people have been made redundant overnight and they're devastated, most people’s identities and egos are tied to their job / employer especially as they become better remunerated / more senior. It's important to have a healthy balance between loyalty, self awareness and self interest. 

How many times have you been promoted? 


Did you have to go to university to get your job? 

Yes. I came up at a time when a degree was a prerequisite. I am of the opinion that undergraduate degrees in most cases outside of STEM don’t matter so much. But university is a great way to show employers you can see something through. Nowadays there are so many more options. I’ve learned more from YouTube in the last 5 years than I ever did at university. My Masters however was a great investment. It was £10k, I took a Career Development Loan to do it. It has paid for itself at this point. 

Did you have to do any extra qualifications for your job? 

Yes. It always helps to have all the Project Management delivery certifications and qualifications. Although the reality of Project delivery is much different than the theory. 

How many pay rises have you had? 

Ever? Over 10, I think I have lost count! 


What tips do you have for someone wanting to get your role?

My CV is updated monthly. If you stay ready you don't have to get ready! 

Soft skills are becoming more important than ever post pandemic, so I would advise polishing those interpersonal skills. 

My final tip, to quote my wonderful mother: ‘Make yourself useful’ 


What does the day-to-day of your role look like? 

  • Morning meeting with team 
  • Prep for progress reviews with delivery teams 
  • Replanning / risk review 
  • Gym 
  • Focus time - 2 hours spent working on tasks such as reporting or creating new artifacts 
  • Afternoon calls with vendors 
  • Work Admin - Email responses - Goal is to finish the day with inbox zero, with emails responded to, or read and deleted if there is no action required from me 


How would you describe your work/life balance? 

My current client is big on psychological safety, wellbeing and inclusion, this creates an environment where there is a work life balance. I can go to the gym before work or at lunchtime, work remotely or from the office and flag if I am balancing too many tasks. 

What is the best/worst thing about your job? 

Best things, frequent travel - great meals when we travel, team dinners / activities, and a nice hotel. Also, working in one of London’s best offices! 

Worst thing, the very occasional early flight! Sometimes, too many meetings and not enough time to do tasks! 


After a year at your first salary, what target salary did you think you'd be comfortable with? 

I thought a £50k salary would make me comfortable (I hadn’t factored in the cost of existing in London)! 

How has this changed as you've earned more money? 

I read The Richest Man in Babylon which literally changed my life. The part about paying yourself first in particular has been a discipline I have followed for the last 10 years and has been the foundation of my understanding of how to save money and how money works. 

I’ve realised there is a sweet spot - how much you earn vs how content you are overall and your level of satisfaction with what you do. After a point there are diminishing returns to an increased salary. 

I think this is why people at this point tend to pack it all in and do their own thing. You find there is no number that makes you comfortable, your goals always change, you are forever trying to build on what you have already, I guess that's human nature. 

Most people won’t believe this as I didn’t earlier in my career. I acknowledge it’s easy for me to say now. But that is the point. Ringo Bonavena is attributed the quote ‘Experience is the comb life gives you when you are bald’ it’s one of my favourites as it reminds me to learn from the advice of my peers, colleagues and those I consider to be mentors. 


As your salary has increased, how have your spending habits changed? 

I grew up with very little so I have part of my parents' frugality built in as part of my operating system. I have made an effort to drop the scarcity mindset they had to adopt for our survival, to that of an abundance mindset to open myself up to new experiences and opportunities with no fear! 

I have noticed changes in how I spend money. For example, I noticed recently I don’t look at prices on the menu in restaurants, I order whatever I want. Maybe an extra side, a large glass of wine, even a bottle or two. Unthinkable 10 years ago! I am also happy to pay a little more for convenience in life, having a cleaner for the house buys me time to do things I enjoy doing. Avoiding budget airlines where possible, as they work out the same as BA once you add your luggage on! 

I have tried to manage lifestyle inflation as best possible. This was done by doing the following: 

  • Clearing debt I had outstanding (£800 overdraft & £1200 on my Career development loan) and my student loan. 
  • I have different accounts for different things - spending and collecting points Amex, bills - Starling, saving and investing Freetrade and Moneybox - Separating money means I forget what I have squirrelled away. This leaves me less tempted to make indulgent purchases. There is too much friction to access the cash! 
  • Cycling 
  • Learning to cook restaurant level food so I don’t eat out frivolously 
  • I still love a bargain, and love nice clothes and shoes. I spend on clothes but only 3-4 times a year I tend to buy clothes to last. When I am bored with them I ebay them and what doesn't sell goes to charity. 


As your salary has increased, have your saving and/or investing habits changed? 

In my Grad Programme they had a sharesave scheme. I put the max into this (£250 a month) as when the shares matured you could sell them at the market price or just take your cash back so you couldn't lose money. As well as this I was following the pay yourself first rule from the Richest Man in Babylon. It didn't feel like much at the time but it wasn't about the money, I was slowly learning financial discipline. By the time I finished my grad scheme £2,000 in savings and my lifestyle didn't suffer at all. 

Building on this, I started investing in a Stocks and Shares ISA with Moneybox as I thought the round-up feature was awesome. I started with £50 a week, now I invest £150 a week. I treat it as a bill. I have a Freetrade account, where I research shares and buy shares in companies for the long term (min 5 years). I do my research beforehand, then invest when the stock is relatively cheap, again here the consistency is key. I would recommend Terry Smith’s Investing for Growth, and Andrew Craig’s How to Own the World. This is currently sitting on around a 4% loss but I don't mind, because i) i rarely check it and ii) its for the long term so daily swings don't matter too much. These are the riskiest investments so high risk / high reward! 

I saved most of my salary when contracting for the first 3 years, using this to buy my first house in London in 2019. It needed complete renovation which took 4 months, this was a great investment and got me into property. Reading the work of Rob Dix and listening to his Property Podcast I bought a second property in 2022, renovated it and now rent it out. 

Overall, as I find pockets of success in investing, I am able to take more risks. I am also transparent with my family, friends and some colleagues around my various projects, strategies and earnings. I think the world has more than enough opportunities for everyone. Some great opportunities have come because of the openness I have with like-minded people. 


In 10 years time, where do you hope to be career wise? 

One word. Retired. 

In all seriousness, I would love to leave the corporate world sooner rather than later, or only dip in and out when I find a great project to work on with a well intentioned, competent team, or working part time. Then using the rest of my time to travel, help people, learn new skills and spend time with my family and friends. This is why I work, save and invest now. Delayed gratification. Maybe I pull it off, maybe I don’t. But I know what 100% won’t work…living for the moment, or worse still, living for instagram stories. 

How much do you hope to be earning in 5 years time? 

If I was earning my current rate (inflation adjusted) I wouldn’t be upset. I have worked hard and taken risks but overall I am aware that I am truly blessed. Contracting is a great way to divorce yourself from the traditional career path and take the first steps into self-employment and self-reliance for your income. My goal for 5 years is to be closer than I am today to financial independence and in the meantime enjoying the lessons, journey and people who will support me in getting there.